Monday, January 22, 2018

Young Dexter? No, It's The End Of The F***ing World Season 1!

The Good: Some good moments of humor and intrigue, Decent performances, Well-directed, Consistently awkward tone and feel
The Bad: Fairly predictable plot seeding, Consistently uncomfortable tone
The Basics: The End Of The F***ing World Season One takes a premise that has very limited range and appeal and does the best it can with it.

In the last several years, there have been a number of television shows with a fairly limited concept to them. "Crabby doctor solves medical mysteries," "A team digs up bones of dead people to solve cold case crimes," "A psychopath manages his murderous tendencies by killing bad people and covering up the evidence using his day job;" they tend to be concepts that boil down to a one-line pitch, where the plots become repetitive with minor variations on the original pitch's themes. Those shows, when they endure and survive, have a tendency to do so because the characters are compelling and they grow and develop; the serialized character elements tend to allow the series to get away with the repetitive plot elements. The latest show that seems to be instantly hampered by its own concept is The End Of The F***ing World.

The first season of The End Of The F***ing World came to Netflix back in October and it's a quick binge - only eight half-hour episodes. The End Of The F***ing World is based upon a comic book series and it is worth noting up front that it is not one I have read. As a result, this is a review solely of the television season with no comparative analysis to the source material.

The End Of The F***ing World has a concept that is somewhat limited: the season follows two late teenagers - James and Alyssa - who are running away from their families. Both are asocial outcasts who have misanthropic tendencies and the big character twist is that James is a young psychopath who wants to kill Alyssa as his first-ever murder. While this seems like a pretty original concept, it does not take long for viewers to realize that the show is hampered by its own set-up: The End Of The F***ing World Season 1 is either leading to James actually killing Alyssa or moving beyond his murderous impulses toward her. Fans of Dexter might instantly recognize the potential that James might move past wanting to kill Alyssa and the two might work together to kill people who have wronged them. So, the first season of The End Of The F***ing World is hardly as surprising as the writers and executive producers might want it to seem.

Set in a small town in England, James and Alyssa attend the same high school. Alyssa is a new transfer who has become bored and furious about the way her peers hide behind their phones instead of engaging with one another. She sees James watching her, as he is stalking her with plans to make her his first murder as part of a lifelong escalation into psychopathic tendencies, and they begin awkwardly dating. Shortly after they begin their friendship, Alyssa takes the advice of her weasel stepfather and leaves home. She visits James, who punches his father and steals his car to take Alyssa away to kill her.

Unfortunately for the pair, the two get into a car accident and spend all the rest of their money on a meal and are left to hitchhike. James allows a closeted gay man to molest him, which Alyssa witnesses and extorts him for. Alyssa robs the man and the two flee into the country. They squat at the house of a college professor and there Alyssa feels rejected and picks up a local guy. After kicking out the man, Alyssa and James are alarmed when the home's owner, Professor Clive Koch, returns home. He is about to rape and kill Alyssa, but Alyssa is saved by James. James killing Koch puts Alyssa and James on the run and puts them on the radar of detectives Darego and Noon, who begin a cross-country chase to apprehend the murderers without entirely understanding the circumstances.

The "will they or won't they" aspects of the first season of The End Of The F***ing World quickly wear thin as the season is almost effectively over the moment James kills Koch to save Alyssa. Alyssa is no longer going to be his first kill and the justifiable murder of Koch upsets Alyssa and shocks James. But more than that, James is unnerved by Koch's death and he ignores several opportunities to kill Alyssa in the aftermath of that murder. As one might expect of any road trip show, James and Alyssa encounter obstacles and, as a result, begin to bond. So, even after Alyssa runs away from him, James does not experience rage that would work him up to murdering Alyssa as his original plan dictated.

The bonding aspect of the road trip storyline telegraphs much of the direction of the season. Such is one of the problems with the first season of The End Of The F***ing World; the moves are foreshadowed in ways that anyone who is awake, engaged, and watching will easily see what direction the show is going in. So, for example, the languorous shot of Koch's closet packed with bleach characterizes him instantly to anyone who has seen Dexter as a killer. Long before James finds the supporting evidence of Koch's villainy, the remote location filled with bleach makes him out to be a killer. In a similar fashion, the one guy willing to pick up a shirtless teenage boy who is hitchhiking is explicitly characterized as a pervert by Alyssa.

On the flip side of that, it is reassuring to see that Darego and Noon are good detectives. Their hunt for James and Alyssa puts them in touch with evidence early on that puts them on the right track for the murderers. Noon is an empathetic detective who quickly suspects that the murder might not be all it seems and Darego is her literal-evidence, "I don't care about the motivation" foil character. Their following the clues is one of the more engaging aspects of the first season of The End Of The F***ing World.

That said, the first season of The End Of The F***ing World truly hinges upon James and Alyssa. Their initial characterizations include:

James - A scrawny boy who lives with his father following his mother's death at a young age, he has escalated his killing of animals over the years and now has two goals: to punch his father in the face and to kill a human being. He scopes out Alyssa to kill her and has her over - much to the chagrin of his father - and at Alyssa's behest (and sensing it will lead to a better opportunity to kill her) he steals his dad's card and takes her away. While on the road, he begins to bond with Alyssa and he lets things happen to him because he is indifferent to life. He has a severely scarred hand from when, as a child, he stuck his hand in a deep fryer in an attempt to feel something. He is indifferent to human life and human touch, but soon begins to bond with Alyssa,

and Alyssa - A seventeen year-old student who is neglected by her mother and leered at by her stepfather. She idolizes her estranged father who lives in Kent; when she sees James as a way out of town, she sets her sights on finding her father. She has a volatile temper and loves to eat.

The End Of The F***ing World Season 1 might telegraph the plot and character arcs, but the acting is quite good. Jessica Barden is unsettling with the way she portrays Alyssa's violent mood swings. Barden plays an angry teenager incredibly well; which makes sense given that she is in her mid-twenties. Alex Lawther portrays James and he is consistently cold in an entirely unsettling way. Lawther and Barden have decent on-screen interplay throughout the first season of The End Of The F***ing World. Wunmi Mosaku and Gemma Whelan play Darego and Noon with ease; they are entirely credible as detectives who are following the evidence. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can think of for the performances in The End Of The F***ing World is that it was only after looking her up that I realized Whelan plays a prominent character on Game Of Thrones - she is unrecognizable in her portrayal of Noon from her other role!

Ultimately, The End Of The F***ing World is an entertaining, quick to binge first season that attempts to play itself as audacious when it is actually surprisingly mundane.

For other works from the 2017 - 2018 television season, please check out my reviews of:
"Vaulting Ambition" - Star Trek: Discovery
Grace And Frankie - Season Four
"The Last Day" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"The Trial Of The Flash" - The Flash
"Legion Of The Super-Heroes" - Supergirl
"Twice Upon A Time" - Doctor Who
The Orville - Season 1
The Punisher - Season 1
Inhumans - Season 1
Stranger Things - Season 2
Rick And Morty - Season 3
"Beebo The God Of War" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Crisis On Earth-X, Part 2" - Arrow
Twin Peaks - Season 3 ("The Return")
Game Of Thrones - Season 7
The Defenders - Season 1
Friends From College - Season 1


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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